Woodstock (song)

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Song by Joni Mitchell from the album Ladies of the Canyon
Released March 1970
Recorded 1969 - 1970
A&M Studios, Los Angeles
Genre Folk jazz, Jazz fusion, Rock
Length 5:25
Label Reprise
Writer Joni Mitchell
Producer Joni Mitchell
Ladies of the Canyon track listing
Big Yellow Taxi
"Woodstock" The Circle Game
Single by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
from the album Déjà Vu
Released March 1970
Format 7"
Recorded July - December 1969
Wally Heider's Studio C, San Francisco and Wally Heider's Studio III, Los Angeles
Genre Hard rock, Blues rock
Length 3:54
Label Atlantic
Producer(s) Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singles chronology
"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"
"Teach Your Children"
Audio sample
file info · help
Single by Matthews Southern Comfort
from the album Later That Same Year
Released 1971
Format 7"
Recorded 1969
Genre Folk rock
Length 4:26
Label MCA
Producer(s) Iain Matthews
Matthews Southern Comfort singles chronology
"The Summer of Last Year"/"Summer Evening"
"Mare, Take Me Home"

"Woodstock" is a popular song written by Joni Mitchell and included on her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. The song was notably covered by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and became a counterculture anthem.


Joni Mitchell wrote the song from what she had heard from then-boyfriend, Graham Nash, about the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. She had not been there herself, since she was told by a manager that it would be more advantageous for her to appear on The Dick Cavett Show. She wrote it in a hotel room in New York City, watching televised reports of the festival. "The deprivation of not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock," she told an interviewer shortly after the event.[1]

The lyrics tell a story about a spiritual journey to Max Yasgur's farm, the place of the festival, and making prominent use of religious imagery, comparing the festival place with the Garden of Eden ("...and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden"). The saga commences with the narrator's encounter of a fellow traveler ("Well, I came upon a child of God, he was walking along the road") and concludes at their ultimate destination ("by the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong..."). There are also references to the Vietnam War ("bombers flying shotgun in the sky").[2][3]

Releases and cover versions[edit]

Prior to release on any album, Mitchell performed "Woodstock" at the 1969 Big Sur Folk Festival, one month after Woodstock. The solo performance can be seen in the festival concert film Celebration at Big Sur (released in 1971). Mitchell had not yet developed her distaste for large festival gigs.[4]

It was released on her third album, Ladies of the Canyon in March 1970. It also appeared on her two live albums, Miles of Aisles and Shadows and Light, and again in 1996 on her Hits album.

Mitchell's original version featured a stark and haunting arrangement - solo vocal, multi-tracked backing vocals and tremoloed Wurlitzer electric piano, all performed by Mitchell.

About the same time that Ladies of the Canyon appeared, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's upbeat hard rock arrangement was released as a single and on their Déjà Vu album. Theirs is the more well-known version of the song, having reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. This recording opens with a distinct, memorable lead guitar lick played by Stephen Stills. Stills also sings lead vocals in addition with backing harmonies from David Crosby and Graham Nash. This arrangement is also notable for the start-stop patterns just prior to the "We are stardust, we are golden..." chorus.[2] Also in March 1970, the Woodstock film was released with a different take by CSN&Y over the closing credits.

The song later went on to be a hit for Matthews Southern Comfort, reaching #1 on the UK singles chart for three weeks in October 1970.

The Assembled Multitude's 1970 instrumental version reached #79 in the US. David Crosby, in an interview in the documentary Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, said that Mitchell had captured the feeling and importance of the Woodstock festival better than anyone who had been there.[5]

Led Zeppelin incorporated Woodstock's lyrics and structure into live renditions of Jake Holmes' song "Dazed and Confused" between 1973 and 1975.[6]

In 1994 Toto co-founder and long time vocalist Bobby Kimball included a rock version of the song as opener on his solo album Rise Up. [7] Kimball's version is closer to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's arrangement than to Joni Mitchell's original.

In 1997 James Taylor performed "Woodstock" live at the 12th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

In popular culture[edit]

  • A line from the chorus, "We are billion year old carbon," was used by Corey Mesler as the title of a novel about the 1960s.[8]
  • In an episode of the fictional US political television drama, The West Wing, "The Warfare of Genghis Khan" (Series 5, Episode 13), a NASA Assistant Administrator, Alex Moreau, shows the Orion Nebula to Josh Lyman through a telescope and describes it to him, explaining that "Everything, every atom in our bodies, comes from exploding stars" and concluding "I guess Joni Mitchell was right: 'We are stardust'".[9][10]
  • The 20th episode of Six Feet Under, "Back to the Garden", takes its title from the song's lyrics, and features it prominently in the episode, including a closing scene in which Frances Conroy, in a broken voice, sings along with the song as it plays from a cassette tape.[citation needed]
  • British punk group Chumbawamba referenced a lyric in their song "I'm Not Sorry, I Was Having Fun." The lyric "By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong" became "By the time I got to Woodstock, it was going up in flames," referring to the disastrous Woodstock 1999 festival.


  1. ^ William Ruhlmann, "Joni Mitchell: From Blue to Indigo," (1995) republished in Stacey Luftig, ed., The Joni Mitchell Companion: Four Decades of Commentary New York: Schirmer Books, pp. 37-38
  2. ^ a b "Woodstock - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young | AllMusic". allmusic.com. 2014. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Joni Mitchell's website -- Woodstock song lyrics
  4. ^ Ruhlmann, in Luftig, ed., p. 37; Phil Sutcliffe, "Joni Mitchell," (interview)Q, May 1988, republished in Lustig, ed.,pp. 141-142.
  5. ^ Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind
  6. ^ Monk, Katherine. Joni: The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell. New York: Greystone Books, 2012, p. 99.
  7. ^ Bobby Kimball's Official Discography on www.bobbykimball.com/#!rise-up/cpgl
  8. ^ Deusner, Steven (26 May 2006). "... With the Memphis Blues Again". Book review. PopMatters. Retrieved 9 August 2008. 
  9. ^ "The Warfare of Genghis Khan". Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  10. ^ "The Warfare of Genghis Khan". Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
Preceded by
"Band of Gold" by Freda Payne
UK number one single
(Matthews Southern Comfort version)

31 October 1970 for three weeks
Succeeded by
"Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix